The goal of respectful parenting (or caregiving, or any other significant involvement in a child’s growth) is an authentic child. A child who feels competent, secure and autonomous. A child who feels no need to suppress parts of who she is in order to be loved and cared for by those to whom she is most strongly attached. This kind of parenting values and enhances your relationship with your child, and promotes interactions that are more respectful, cooperative, peaceful, intimate, meaningful, and loving.
Respectful parenting involves seeing a child, from the earliest days of life onward, as a unique and whole person as opposed to an object to be handled and molded to our liking. The assumption is that children are complete human beings from the moment of birth, with their own distinct points of view – who deserve to be taken seriously.
Even the youngest infants can be invited to be active participants rather than passive recipients of care. Older children can be invited to participate in decision-making that affects their lives, and invited to collaborate in resolving conflicts that arise.
This is a way of relating to your child that involves intentionally meeting her needs for comfort, safety and exploration. It involves non-judgmentally attuning to the changing needs of your individual child and sensitively responding to those needs as accurately as you can.
When you let your child know that all of her feelings are valid and allowed to be expressed, shared and worked through with your help, you increase her capacity to regulate emotions and manage the difficult ones – and she develops confidence in her emotional competence.
You understand that your words become her inner voice, and you model the ways you want her to behave and be in the world. You intentionally develop qualities in your child that you most want for her in her adult life. In this way you can foster her development into a joyful, authentic, cooperative, motivated, self-regulating and responsible adult.
You appreciate, admire and respect what your child can actually do – as opposed to pushing or expecting her to do what she can’t, giving her the freedom to develop, explore and discover at her own pace and supporting her inner desire to learn.
When you acknowledge disconnects and mistakes and make efforts to make up for and learn from them, your child learns that adults make mistakes too, but they try. She sees that relationships include struggle, but also resolution and repair.
This kind of parenting is non-adversarial, and non-punitive. There is no use of punishment (corporal or otherwise), shame, guilt, coercion, threats, manipulation or withdrawal of affection. When you respond with connection and curiosity – even when faced with your child’s unpleasant behaviors, you’re helping your child navigate the complexity of relationships.
You can use challenging moments as an opportunity to teach your child about hearing others’ point of view, about clearly and respectfully communicating your own needs, about compromise, forgiveness and negotiation. You confidently communicate your expectations, and maintain clear and consistent boundaries and limits with patience and empathy.
When you have developmentally-appropriate expectations you can take challenging behaviors less personally. You view impulsive or inappropriate behaviors as normal rather than catastrophic, and set limits from a place of compassion rather than anger. You can be responsive while still prioritizing your own self-care and personal boundaries. You can respect your children while also respecting yourself.
There is no such thing as perfection as a parent – and it’s not even necessary.
Your child needs you to be good enough. She just needs to trust that you will try to be there for her. She just needs to feel felt. That, and your responsive sensitivity, flexibility and availability to help her with her fundamental needs shows her that she can trust you.
And in the same vein, when you communicate to her verbally and nonverbally that you see her in a positive light, as inherently good-intentioned, and as wanting to please you – when you trust her – she rises to that expectation. It is this trust-based emotional bond between you that allows her to develop competence, self-reliance, resourcefulness, and her own unique capacities as a human being.
Whether respectful parenting is completely new to you, or you’ve been at it for a good long while, this kind of authentic, mutually responsive, and trusting relationship between adult and child mostly just requires an open heart and an open mind.
You already have what you need to get started or keep going.